Low budget, high profit: horror films are hot

By Jake Coyle

AP Film Writer


Finding dependable, bankable box-office hits for anything without a superhero has been a downright scary proposition for Hollywood.

The solution, it turns out, is a nightmare, too.

Horror has emerged as one of the most lucrative and in-demand genres in Hollywood, a box-office success story as well as – thanks to a new generation of ambitious genre filmmakers – a creative one. Like perhaps never before, horror is hot. For an industry that has struggled to find areas of growth outside of the pages of comic books, it’s now hailing slashers as saviors.

“Right now it’s pretty obvious what audiences want,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “People want their horror fast and cheap. And that should be music to the ears of studios.”

It certainly was to Paramount Pictures – the most hit-starved of the major studios – when John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” last weekend blew away expectations to debut with $50.2 million. Despite costing only $17 million to make, the expertly sound-designed suspense film may pass $100 million over this weekend.

Opening this weekend is “Truth or Dare,” the latest from Blumhouse Productions, the horror factory that has done more than any other to lead today’s renaissance. As the producer of dozens of low-budget, often social provocative horror releases, it has blazed the path for the 21st century horror film.

Blumhouse, which has a distribution deal with Universal Pictures, was behind two of 2017’s biggest hits. There was “Split,” by M. Night Shyamalan, a veteran of the last horror craze in 1999 when his “The Sixth Sense” was released along with “The Blair Witch Project.” And, of course, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” a $5 million movie that grossed $255 million worldwide, earned four Oscar nods and stoked more discussion than any other movie in 2017.

While the economics of horror have been appreciated by the movies since at least “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” almost a century ago, Blumhouse has reinvigorated the genre by pairing $5 million-or-less budgets with filmmakers eager to push the genre forward.

That’s a drastically different strategy in tentpole-obsessed, risk-averse Hollywood.

“Making low-budget horror movies has always been a pretty good idea. Blumhouse just sort of upped the game a little bit by getting really, really talented people to get on board and make some cool stuff,” said Steven Soderbergh, who brought a new perspective to the psychiatric hospital nightmare by shooting his March release “Unsane” with iPhones.

The genre last year accounted for about $800 million in domestic box office. “It” became the highest grossing horror film of all time ($327.5 million domestically, $700.4 million worldwide), though 1973’s “The Exorcist” still has it handily beat when accounting for inflation.

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